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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Editorial: Jerusalem: The Capital of Israel

A giant U.S. flag screened alongside Israel’s national flag on the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem, following President Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6, 2017. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

On Dec. 6, the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As part of this historic announcement, President Trump initiated the process of relocating the U.S. embassy there. For more than two decades, bipartisan majorities of Congress have repeatedly called for such action.

As the president noted in his remarks, these actions in no way preclude future negotiations over the city’s final status, borders, or the goal of two states for two peoples.

But in response, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared on Dec. 13 that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would no longer seek to negotiate peace with Israel—an unfortunate move that all but ensures Palestinian aspirations for statehood will remain unrealized. Moving forward, Palestinian leadership should do what is in its people’s best interest by returning to direct negotiations with Israel to achieve a durable peace agreement.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital conveys an important message.

Recognition that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, along with initiating a process to move the U.S. embassy there, sends a strong message: America will not allow the Palestinians to hold U.S. policy hostage to their unwillingness to resume negotiations with Israel. It is also an important rejection of those in the international community, like UNESCO, who promote the anti-Semitic canard that denies the 3,000-year, continuous Jewish connection to its holiest city.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating America’s embassy there does not undermine the agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in the Oslo Accords that Jerusalem will be a final status issue. America’s actions do not prejudice future negotiations over the city’s final status and borders.

For its part, Israel has consistently honored the city’s connection to the world’s Muslim population. Israel takes Muslim sentiments into account at all times with respect to the holy places. Today, Jerusalem is a vibrant, multicultural city where Christians, Muslims and Jews from all over the world can visit their holy sites. 

Congress has long recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

For decades, on a bipartisan basis, Congress has strongly expressed its belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. embassy should be relocated there. In 1990, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly adopted bipartisan resolutions (H.Con.Res. 290 and S.Con.Res. 106) that acknowledge Jerusalem “is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel.” In 1995, it overwhelmingly enacted the bipartisan Jerusalem Embassy Act, which proclaimed as a statement of U.S. policy that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital and that our embassy should be located there. The law permitted the president to waive this requirement only if deemed necessary for U.S. national security. For the past 18 years, successive administrations have exercised this waiver. 

In 2002, Congress overwhelmingly adopted the FY 2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that requires all government-funded documents that list countries and their capital cities to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Most recently, the Senate in June 2017 overwhelmingly adopted S.Res. 176 which “reaffirms the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995…and calls upon the President and all United States officials to abide by its provisions.”

Following the Dec. 6 announcement, senior members from both chambers and both parties expressed their support for the decision. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said, “As someone who strongly believes that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, I am calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated to Jerusalem."

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the decision “long overdue” and said “the announcement is a recognition of reality that in no way inhibits efforts to reach a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Palestinian leadership is making erroneous claims and dangerous decisions.

On Dec. 13, President Abbas delivered a blistering speech to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in response to America’s Jerusalem recognition. In his address he 1) outrageously demanded countries to “review their recognition of the State of Israel;” 2) declared that Palestinians would no longer be bound by previous agreements with Israel; 3) denied any historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem, stating, “It is a Palestinian Arab Muslim Christian city, the eternal capital of the state of Palestine;” 4) falsely accused Israel of violating the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque; and, 5) rejected direct, bilateral talks with Israel while announcing his intent to use the international community to gain recognition and impose decisions on Israel. He called for support of Palestinian efforts to “join all international organizations and treaties as a natural right for them in order to affirm the existence of the State of Palestine in the international system.”

And on Dec. 9, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters in Cairo that Abbas would not meet with Vice President Pence during his upcoming trip to Israel, adding that the Palestinian leadership is breaking “formal communications” with U.S. officials.

President Abbas should return to peace talks.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital simply makes official something obvious to any impartial observer, and it in no way obstructs future negotiations surrounding the city’s final status. It provides no justification for the dangerous path Abbas has embarked upon. Continuing to inflame tensions and instigate further Palestinian violence will only harm the prospects for peace. Instead, President Abbas should immediately return to direct, bilateral negotiations with Israel—which is the only realistic way to achieve a durable peace agreement—and reverse course on boycotting American leaders.

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